41 more food safety officers to be appointed across Kerala in a fortnight



Increased vigil after 16-year-old girl died in Kasaragod due to alleged food poisoning

Increased vigil after 16-year-old girl died in Kasaragod due to alleged food poisoning

With recurring incidents of stale and contaminated food served in eateries taking a toll on people’s health, and even claiming the life of a 16-year-old girl in Kasaragod district recently, the Food Safety department has been stirred into action.

Steps had been taken to fast-track the appointment of 41 food safety officers so that the strength reached the allotted number of 160, said Commissioner of Food Safety V.R. Vinod. “The vacancies will be filled in a fortnight, since the PSC [Kerala Public Service Commission] is shortlisting the candidates after interview. The recruitment to the post is direct and not through promotion. Existing officials were being given additional charge as of now,” he said.

The number of squads has been increased and inspections are being held at night as well, as part of the high vigil following the recent incident in Kasaragod where a teenager died and over 30 others were hospitalised after they reportedly consumed shawarma from an eatery. Permission has been given to hire an additional vehicle in each district to augment inspections at eateries. Efforts were also being made to implement a three-pronged approach – of stepping up inspections, hosting awareness programmes, and imparting training to those manning eateries, as per the Food Safety Compliance System (FoSCoS) of the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), said Mr. Vinod.

A total of 152 shops selling shawarma were closed for not having licence or due to inadequate hygiene, while 179 kg of meat and 6,068 kg of fish were destroyed after the recent food poisoning incidents.

Acute shortage in Ernakulam district

Nine of the 14 posts of food safety officers in Ernakulam district, which has the maximum number of eateries in the State, have been vacant for quite some time. The number falls to four when one of the officers is assigned duty in the mobile lab. The district needs at least 28 food safety officers to keep a tab on eateries, the number of which is ever increasing. The allotted strength of 14 officers will be inadequate even for Kochi city since they are often assigned duties like setting up stalls during government events and for taking awareness classes in educational institutions, it is learnt. This is apart from the officers having to attend courts to testify in food safety-related cases.

Non-governmental organisations and others have demanded that officials of the Food Safety department work in tandem with those of the health wing of civic agencies. The State-level general convenor of Janakeeya Anweshana Samithi, T.N. Pratapan, said the department had an allotted strength of 160 permanent employees and 102 temporary employees, on whose functioning the government spent approximately ₹31 crore every year. “They must collect more food samples, especially since Kerala is a consumerist State where a bulk of vegetables, eggs, meat and packed goods comes from other States,” he said.

Terming the stepped up of inspections at eateries as a fallout of the shawarma-related death, Ernakulam District Residents’ Associations’ Apex Council (EDRAAC) member D.G. Suresh called for regular inspections in all eateries, from roadside outlets to luxury hotels. “Eateries must keep their kitchens open for inspection or visits by customers to gain their confidence. There have been reports of eateries in shopping malls selling unsold food at low rates to agents, who then pass them on to vendors and others for sale. Food safety officials must clamp down on this as well,” he said.


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